Do I have what it takes? (April 15, 2018)
Do I have what it takes?
2 Corinthians 2:12-3:6
Do I have what it takes? Have you ever asked yourself that question? I’ve asked myself that question a lot. It applies to simple things, like when I want to replace the brakes on my car and I only have one afternoon to do it. Do I have what it takes? Do I have the parts? Do I have the tools? Do I have the skills needed? This question also applies to much more complicated things. Do I have what it takes to uproot my family and move to another state? Do I have what it takes to get hired at that new job, and become a valuable employee? Do I have what it takes to retire and live on a fixed income? Do I have what it takes to support myself for another 10, 15, or 20 years. I think for almost any decision in life whether big or small you are asking yourselves that question.
But what about when you don’t have what it takes? What happens when there’s a gap between what you have and what it takes? Do you take a leap of faith? Do you fill that gap with hope? Do you better yourself to close that gap? Or do you take another course of action? I think any number of those solutions could apply in different circumstances.
The situation I want you to focus on today is proclaiming the gospel. God asks you, even commands you to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). In fact, here in Texas, our church body has an initiative: 10 new missions in 10 years. We call it Ten in Ten. And the encouragement for that initiative comes from something that Jesus said to his disciples. He said, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mk 1:38). Jesus was always on the move. He was always talking to and sharing the gospel with new people and he commissions you to do the same! Our purpose here at Trinity is not to turn inwardly and protect our own. Rather, it’s to go out and share this good news with others! That’s one of the reasons that Jesus appeared to his disciples again and again after he rose from the dead; so that they would not remain behind locked doors but have what it takes to go out and share the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead to save sinners. You are included in that commission. You also like the disciples, like Paul, are a missionary of the gospel! Do you have what it takes? Do you have what it takes to be a missionary of the gospel, and if not, do you know how you are going to fill the gap?
Well, what does it take to be a missionary of the gospel?
It takes heart, first of all. And you can see that heart in an interesting way in the first few verses of the section we are looking at today. The apostle Paul went to Troas to preach the gospel, and the Lord blessed that opportunity by opening a door for him – giving him some kind of “in,” some kind of opportunity that he could use to start sharing the gospel. But then, as soon as Paul arrives in Troas, he’s leaving! This isn’t like Paul. Paul would never pass up an opportunity to share the Gospel. This is Paul who would often preach the gospel in a city until he had to leave because the Jews threatened to kill him! This Paul was beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and even standing on trial he shared the gospel because he couldn’t pass up an opportunity. Why did he leave in such a hurry? It says, “I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them” (2 Cor 2:13).
Paul left simply because he couldn’t find his friend? You said mission work takes heart, but I thought it would be a heart for the gospel or a heart for the lost – not a heart for believing family and friends! What’s going on here? That’s exactly the right question. It is too bad that Paul passed up an opportunity to preach the gospel in Troas, but he was so agitated, so concerned that he just couldn’t focus on the ministry of the Gospel… at least not in Troas. His concern was for another group of people, the ones to whom this letter is addressed. Notice, that this is his second letter to the Corinthians. His first letter was a very stern letter. The Corinthians needed a lot of work. They had initially treated God’s Word lightly and were overcome with a number of sins. Paul preached God’s Word very sternly to them in his first letter so that they would see their need for and appreciate the life-changing words of the gospel. But Paul was worried about how his stern letter would be received. He knew he had to be stern with them, but he was worried about their reaction. So he sent Titus to go and check things out for him. How did they receive the letter? Any change in behavior? Have they been cut to the heart but then healed by the gospel? He was supposed to meet up with Titus in Troas to hear the report, but when Paul didn’t find him there, he went on to Macedonia in search of him and the news he would bring.
It’s explained in a strange way here, but Paul had such a concern for gospel ministry that he couldn’t focus on the work in front of him. His heart was somewhere else. He was concerned about how his proclamation of the gospel would tip the scales for the great number of believers in Corinth. Would they reject his rebuke and fall away, or would the heed his words and be changed by the gospel? Here on earth, that small tip one way or the other may simply appear to be a change in creeds, but looking at it from an eternal perspective, this would mean the difference between eternity in hell or eternity in heaven.
Have you ever felt that way? Have your heart gone out to someone or your concern for them been so high that you couldn’t focus on the task in front of you? Maybe it doesn’t always weigh on us as much as it should. Maybe we have become fairly numb to it because in all earthly respects, not much changes. Whether my neighbor is a Christian or not does not always appear to bring about great changes in his life. He’s still going to live in the same place. He’s still going to work at the same job. So why such a fuss? Why such a great concern? Take off your earthly glasses and put on your spiritual glasses for a moment. I wish there was such a thing. Because if we could only see what a person’s belief or unbelief is going to result in, our hearts would be immediately affected. Your concern for you friend or neighbor, your brother, sister, mom or dad would be greatly increased! I know you have a heart for these people in your life. I know that heart aches and longs for these people to hear and believe the good news! Look for the opportunities that God gives you. You don’t have to preach a sermon to them. But in your regular conversations, let them see your heart. Let them know about the difference Christ has made in your life.
Well, who am I to do all this work? I’m just one person, what difference can I make in a person’s life? Do I really have what it takes to change the heart of even just one person – let alone all the people I know who need to know their Savior?
Once again, this Bible reading answers those concerns in a very interesting way. The picture is a Roman victory parade – a triumphal march through the city. If you’ve never seen what that might have looked like, you can watch the old Ben-Hur movie or probably look on YouTube later today. But I’m going to try to describe it for you. The streets of the city are crowded with people, and I mean packed! The aroma of incense and flower petals is wafting through the air! Even without seeing the procession yet you know those smells well. They trigger memories of previous victories. And signal this as a joyous procession! The difficult thing to do, however, is to decide where your place is in this triumphant procession. Are you on the streets witnessing this? Are you a soldier proudly marching in victory? Or are you a former enemy who has been captured?
In a way, every one of us was formerly a hostile enemy of God. At some point in our lives, maybe even for just the first few days we were enemies of God and rejected his reign in our hearts. But here, Paul says, God “leads us in triumphal procession” (2 Cor 2:14). We have been “defeated,” so to speak, by the gospel. We have been taken captive by God and are part of his triumphal procession. But this is not a bad thing for us. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, he is not like the ruthless kings of the roman empire who would execute their captives. No, as those captured by God he rescues us from slavery to sin and death. He doesn’t rescue us only to enslave us once again or make us the lowest in all of Christendom. Rather, he rescues us, brings about a complete change in our hearts, and makes us heirs in his kingdom who then also go out with that same weapon he rescued us with – the message of the Gospel. So, are we the conquered marching behind Christ, the conqueror, in this triumphal parade? Yes, but he has also made us the honored soldiers of the gospel, able bodied men and women, who go out with the gospel to conquer and rescue even more. Therefore, we are the aroma of Christ to those who are being saved! We are the fragrance of life because we carry the message of the gospel! And with many bodies doing this together, we can have an impact on people’s lives!
But as we go out, armed with the gospel, there is one question we have to remember to ask ourselves. “Who is equal to such a task?” Paul asks (2 Cor 2:16). Who is the power behind us as a conquering force? Is it us ourselves? Do we go by our own power thinking to ourselves, “Well, this person is now a believer because of me. I can certainly go out and claim one more!” In a way, that’s what many false preachers were doing in Paul’s day. They would get letters of recommendation, stating what they had done and how they changed people’s hearts, and then take these letters to the next town to commend themselves as moving preachers! But Paul doesn’t do that. He doesn’t commend himself. His only recommendation is not ink on paper, but the Spirit living in human hearts! Paul says, “Don’t take my word for it, or even the word of those living in the previous town I preached in. Rather, look at them. Observe them. See how deeply and profoundly they have been changed! This isn’t something I do by myself, but God words through his Word to change hearts. I simply share the message faithfully!”
Therefore, he is confident wherever he goes. “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God” he says. “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God” (2 Cor 3:4-5). All of this, the profound change in someone’s hear from unbelief to belief in their Savior, the courage to go out with the gospel, the heart for people and passion for the gospel, all of this is through Christ. Through Christ, the status of the Corinthians is changed before God. Through Christ, they have become a people washed clean in baptism, set apart from the unbelieving world, declared righteous and holy in the eyes of God. That letter of recommendation was one that Paul could carry with him everywhere he went. It was a letter not written in ink, but by the Spirit of God on human hearts. It showed that he was not here to tout his own skills as a missionary, but that he was here as a missionary, because God is with him and works through the word he shares.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, do you have what it takes to be a gospel missionary? You have the heart for the many who are still lost – who still need to be conquered and rescued by Christ who works through his word. You have a body and soul which has been completely changed by the Word living and active in your life! But even with just those two, there would be a large gap to fill between what it takes and what you have to give. Thankfully, God fills that gap with competence that comes from him. Competence that makes you far better equipped and far more effective than anything you could do on your own! So go with God. Share his word. And rejoice as he conquers and rescues, adding even more to his triumphal procession!